Inner Development, Community, Social Justice (Concurrent Session, AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education)

Last, but not least, in this series highlighting lessons from experts in other disciplines relevant to how to navigate the chaotic “new normal”  in legal education: Thursday’s concurrent session organized by Tennessee’s Paulette Williams:  “A Commitment to Inner Development: Connecting the “New Normal” with Clinics’ Social Justice Mission”.

The session brought  Edward Groody and Timothy Dempsey from the Community Building Institute in Tennessee.  The Institute helps social service and criminal justice organizations become more effective by training participants in community building practices.  Taking an evidence-based approach built on motivational interviewing, trauma-informed care, and pro-social supports, community building is a “highly experiential process that helps participants remove barriers to communication and unlearn unproductive attitudes and behaviors.”

Groody began the session with a detailed overview of a four-stage process for building community:

  • Pseudo-community
  • Chaos
  • Emptying/Letting Go
  • Community

That process adds an important step — emptying/letting go — to Bruce Tuckman’s familiar “forming, storming, norming, performing” model of group formation.  My own interpretation of this additional,  third step is that it provides space for  participants to recognize,  and learn skills to address, the emotional issues that so often get in the way of honest connection with others.

Dempsey then shared powerful stories of how that process helps ex-offenders with post-prison re-entry,  allowing them to move past behavioral responses that may have seemed — and perhaps were — functional in their previous lives, but would block their efforts to move forward.   Or, to put it another way, this step acknowledges that in order to take advantage of education or employment opportunities, people need to let go of fears, resentments or trauma.  This is challenging work that is the foundation of many spiritual traditions, but can help build strong connections with others.

Time constraints prevented Paulette Williams from speaking in detail about how she makes use of this process in her clinical teaching work.  I hope she finds other forums for sharing those experiences and insights.

The insights of this community building process struck me as relevant not only to social justice and clinical legal education work, but also to faculty interactions within our law schools.  From another time and place, I well remember a year when every faculty meeting resulted in controversy, usually about something relatively minor that seemed to be a proxy for other, larger, but unacknowledged issues festering beneath the surface.    I suspect that many faculties are experiencing something similar as they operate  in the  current climate of uncertainty and change, too often getting stuck in the fear those conditions foster.  It’s  difficult for me to imagine applying this model in the typical law school environment.  But successfully moving through the “emptying/letting go” phase, as individuals and a group,  could be oh, so helpful!

Lessons from “Counseling Our Students” (Mini-Plenary at AALS Conference on Clinical Education)

At the recent AALS Conference on Clinical Education two additional sessions provided important insights from experts iin other disciplines on how to operate effectively in the midst of the current period of change in legal education.

Wednesday;s Mini-Plenary on Counseling Our Students In the New Normal included an inspiring guest speaker who was even more impressive as a listener.

Moderated by Mercer’s Tim Floyd, the session began with a helpful overview of the current state of the job market (bottom line:  recovering, slowly) by Abraham Pollack, GW’s  Professional Development dean. But the centerpiece of the session was Carolyn McKanders, Co-Director and Director or Organizational Culture, Thinking Collaborative and, not incidentally, mother of Tennessee’s Karla McKanders,

Carolyn brilliantly demonstrated “cognitive coaching” (check out the app!) in an unscripted coaching session that allowed Mary Lynch (yes, that Mary Lynch,  Editor of this blog) to expand  her acting career into improv. The session was designed to help Mary think through her goals and approaches in counseling students on career development in an environment where predictable and linear career tracks are no longer the norm.

After the role play Carolyn summarized three keys to cognitive coaching:  pausing, paraphrasing and posing questions (with a rising inflection that communicates curiosity and openness, not control or credibility).  The beauty of this approach is that it helps the individual “self-monitor, self-analyze, and self-evaluate“.

The session certainly reinforced three lessons that clinicians should know; after all, a foundational goal of clinical legal education is fostering reflection, and most of us teach interviewing and counseling, at least to some extent.

  • First, the power of listening.  In a world of fast talking, sometimes monologue-happy, often living-in-our-heads law professors, so easy for this lesson to “go missing”  if we ruminate worriedly, trying to cope with the new normal in faculty and committee meetings and informal conversations.
  • Second, the value of paraphrasing for understanding to ensure accurate communication.
  • And finally, the importance of  founding our questions on authentic curiosity — listening in order to understand, not to counter an argument.

In a constantly changing world, where so many verities are in play, it’s too easy for us to get stuck in fear and suspicion.  Though the stated rationale for the mini-plenary was to help us counsel students, for me it spoke at least as powerfully to how we can most effectively interact  with our colleagues.  And, perhaps, “counsel” ourselves.

In the next, and final post of this series, I’ll discuss a Thursday concurrent that linked “inner development” with community building and social justice.

Birth, Maturity, Creative Destruction & Renewal At AALS Clinical Conference

As someone who collaborated on a concurrent session titled “Facing Our Fears in Changing Times” at the AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education, it’s probably not surprising that I was especially drawn to sessions that brought in models or speakers from other disciplines to provide insight on how to operate effectively in the midst of the current period of change in legal education.

In addition to my last post on Michele Weise’s Closing Plenary, in this and my next two posts, I’ll discuss three other provocative sessions that addressed different aspects of this theme.

On Tuesday morning my University of Washington colleagues Jennifer Fan and Lisa Kelly, worked with Rutgers-Newark’s Randi Mandelbaum and Syracuse’s Mary Helen McNeal to introduce the “liberating structures eco-systems model” of leadership.  That model views organizational change as an  infinity loop in which organizations move through four cycles that call for different styles of leadership:

Stage                                                   Leadership Style

Birth                                                     Entrepreneur

Maturity                                                Manager

Creative Destruction                           Heretic

Renewal                                               Networker

The model suggests that embedded in the cycle are two “traps“:

1. Between the Maturity and Creative Destruction stages lies the Rigidity Trap of “not letting go” of what the organization has birthed and brought to maturity.  Staying stuck in the past and wedded to the old ways of doing things.

2. Between Creative Destruction and Renewal lies the Poverty Trap of “not investing enough to accomplish renewal”.

Sound familiar? The session included an exercise where attendees decided which stage  they perceived their individual clinic, program, institution, or the clinical legal education movement to be in.  Participants  then added on the infinity loop diagram post-its with their results.  Although responses were spread around the loop, most clustered  among Maturity — Creative Destruction — and Renewal.  Most responses addressed clinical programs and law schools.

I find this framework a helpful reminder that our current struggles are “normal” and that they won’t last forever.  And inspiration to let go of fears and rigidity.

I’m grateful to my former colleague Tim Jaasko-Fisher for his work with liberating structures in the Court Improvement Academy of UW Law’s Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic.

Disruptive Innovation & the AALS Clinical Conference

One of the highlights of last week’s AALS Conference for Clinical Law Teachers was the closing talk by Michele Weise, Senior Fellow, Education at the Clay Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. (A big shout out to Michele Pistone for her role in making that talk happen!) I was superficially familiar with the  disruptive innovation thesis, but Weise’s half-hour talk brought to life its relevance to the current moment in legal education in a way that previous exposure had not.

Disruptive innovations that shake up a market or industry often follow a predictable pattern, it is argued. The established players in the market target a higher end client base and compete on quality, improving the product and selling it at a high margin.  This leaves a significant, low-end segment of the market unserved. New entrants provide an inferior product to these unserved consumers, and gradually improve the product and expand their market.  Poof go the established players. Think personal computers, print media, digital cameras, mobile phones . . . .

Traditional higher education has long failed to reach a significant segment of potential consumers and the federal government’s shift from financial aid grants to student loans has greatly exacerbated that problem. Arguably, the stage is set for disruptive innovation and on-line technology may be the means to that disruption.

The next step of Weise’s analysis was what really captured my attention. She noted that higher education currently serves many functions – transmission of content and certification of knowledge or skills; providing a safe space for young adults to mature socially; networking opportunities, mentoring and tutoring; research & dissemination of scholarship. These functions can be – and are being – disaggregated and provided more cheaply on line. Even the Harvards of the world are potentially at risk, according to Weise.

Law schools have traditionally provided a generalist education.  As legal practice becomes more specialized, that educational model arguably serves to mask more specialized functions that could be disaggregated.  This is already being tried in my home state of Washington with our new Limited Licensed Legal Technician (aka/ Triple LT) program.  But lawyers also wouldn’t have to be trained as generalists.  As course offerings expand, the potential for moving away from the traditional generalist education does also.  Already,  this shows up in the transcripts of some of my students who are not necessarily taking the doctrinal courses that were considered foundational in my day.  Does this matter?

Before hearing Weise’s talk, during the Law Clinic Directors Workshop, I raised the question “how much doctrine do we need to teach?” Good lawyers, I observed,  have extensive doctrinal knowledge.  (Of course, law schools historically haven’t taught doctrine in connection with the experiential anchor points that many of us need in order to retrieve that knowledge for practice.)  Elliott Milstein later challenged the importance of doctrinal knowledge,  observing that his clinic students handle their cases well regardless of whether they have taken relevant doctrinal courses.  Often true.  And yet . . .  The counter-example that I didn’t have a chance to share:  one of my  students  recognized that we could challenge a new unemployment compensation statute on the ground that the subject was not properly included in the title of the legislation.  A classic case of issue spotting that came about solely because he was taking a Washington State Constitutional Law course.  (I didn’t recognize the issue.) A reminder that the ability to issue spot is valuable.  But  . . . state constitutional law isn’t a classic “foundational” “bar course”. This issue spotting was strictly serendipity – a traditional doctrinally-focused course load would not have accomplished this result.

I’m still struggling with the generalist/specialist question.  But it leaves me thinking about the potential for niche curricular innovation aimed at students – often older ones who understand their talents, passions and life goals – who come to law school with a commitment to a practice area like criminal law, immigration law, or business law.

  • Are there enough of those students to justify a legal education targeted at those niches?
  • If so, can we focus their education in a way that really prepares them for their specialty?
  • And, can we at the same time identify a “sweet spot” of “just enough” generalist knowledge to accompany that specialization?  One that provides a foundation for passing the bar exam and the analytical and research skills to master new areas of the law, but does not take up the bulk of a three year curriculum?

I don’t know the answer to these questions.  But they strike me as worth investigating.

LEGAL EDUCATION: TAKING PRIDE IN TURNING OUT LAWYERS?

It is interesting that of all the professional schools domains, from business, to law, to medicine, to design, to engineering and more, legal education seems to be particularly unexcited with the prospect of turning out lawyers. Why is that? It might have something to do with the straddling of the law school between the higher education academy and the trade school.   It is clear, from just rereading what I wrote that the term “trade school” carries baggage with it and likely serving as such is not an attractive idea to many. Thus, we teach students to think critically, but not necessarily the mundane, routinized activities of lawyers. Yet, the actions and performance of lawyers are both important and must coalesce with the thinking agenda. Also, acting or performing without integrity would be more than a distraction, but even a dereliction of duty. So turning out lawyers should be a positive outcome from day #1 of law school – and the practicality of lawyering should be held in high esteem as well as the sometimes disconnected critical thinking.

But what do lawyers make? This question is usually associated with money, but I like it because it also allows for an answer regarding relationships. Lawyers make the rule of law in society, fair processes, dispute resolution more likely and less violent, people who are discriminated against have a way to stand up for their rights, and generally make the our systems function. Lastly, of course, lawyers often make a difference to others. So while lawyers often make nothing tangible, lawyering remains a noble profession that ought to be viewed that way by the academy. The legal education process provides a training and background that offers the tools to navigate the system and help us work together in greater harmony. In an era of uncertainty and volatility, we need competent, community-minded lawyers who operate with integrity.

A Survey Instrument for Cultural Sensibility Learning Outcomes

As law schools begin to grapple with identifying and measuring law student learning outcomes, cultural sensibility [a.k.a. cultural competence] should be on the learning outcomes list. A validated survey instrument has been developed to help measure some aspects of cultural sensibility learning: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2451300.  The instrument helps measure students’ understanding that we all have multifaceted cultural backgrounds, experiences, and biases that affect how we perceive and analyze legal problems and how we interact with clients and colleagues.

As lawyers, we must recognize and grapple with our own biases and stereotypes, as well as the influence cultural factors and systemic racism have had, and continue to have, upon the US legal system. As I note in a forthcoming Nevada Law Journal article: “While racial categories are artificial constructs, there is a long and ongoing history of real differences in the treatment and, therefore, collective experiences of “racial” groups. Those experiences influence how we perceive and assess facts, attitudes, legal problems and legal processes.”

An integral part of legal education involves developing law students’ abilities to identify their own cultural biases and helping future lawyers understand how those cultural perspectives and biases impact their legal analyses and interactions. There are many learning outcomes that contribute to law students’ cultural sensibility knowledge, attitudes and skills, many of which may be measured in various experiential learning and doctrinal courses.

The survey instrument measures some over-arching cultural sensibility learning outcomes, such as recognizing that: 1. one’s own cultural experiences affect how one views the legal system; 2. legal training in “rational thinking” does not insulate lawyers and judges from our own cultural biases; 3. subconscious cognitive processes hinder our ability to identify when we are acting based upon biases and stereotypes, and 4. we need to withhold judgment about others’ behaviors.

The survey instrument may be administered to students as they enter law school and shortly before they graduate. While we did not administer the survey to the same cohort of law students as they entered and then graduated, we did administer it to 309 entering law students and 281 upper level students. Amongst those students, we found that upper level students had a better understanding that one’s own cultural experiences affect how one views legal problems and interacts with clients. To the extent that cultural sensibility education requires that baseline understanding, the survey instrument is one way to measure some aspects of cultural sensibility learning.

At this June’s AALS Workshop on Measuring Learning Gains, Professor Raquel Aldana and I will continue the dialogue on how else one might measure cultural sensibility learning outcomes across the curriculum.

Disruptive Innovation and the Future of Legal Education — Clay Christensen Institute’s Michelle Weise to Deliver Address at AALS Clinical Conference

As legal education faces new challenges in preparing students for law practice and rethinking the lawyer’s role in society, this year’s AALS Clinical Conference, “Leading the New Normal: Clinical Education at the Forefront of Change,” will focus on the central questions: What is the New Normal? How Should Clinicians Respond to the New Normal? What is the Future of the New Normal?

I am excited to introduce Michele Weise, a Senior Research Fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation (CCI), as the speaker for the third theme.  A former Fulbright Scholar and graduate of Harvard and Stanford, Michelle Weise served as the Vice President of Academic Affairs for Fidelis Education, a professor at Skidmore College, and an instructor at Stanford.

In 2014, Ms. Weise co-authored a book with Clayton Christensen, titled Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution, about how online competency-based education will revolutionize the workforce and disrupt higher education. Ms. Weise’s commentaries and research have been featured in a number of publications such as The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Boston Globe, Inside HigherEd, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and USA Today.

The Clay Christensen Institute, ranked in the Thinkers 50 in 2013, is the world’s leading think tank on disruptive innovation. “Disruptive innovation” takes a problem, applies a different set of values to solve the problem, and creates a new market that ultimately overtakes an existing market. Recently, CCI has studied how changes in technology or business models impact industries such as education and health care.

Michele Weise is one of the three main speakers at the conference.  In her talk, Ms. Weise will help the audience to understand the theory of disruption and how it relates not only to our own role as clinical professors, but also to outside changes impacting legal education. We see clinical education itself as a form of “disruptive innovation” within the legal academy. Our values and methods now stand ready to overtake and profoundly transform legal education, creating a “new normal.” At the same time, we face the prospect that other innovations (in technology and in law practice) will disrupt us, our schools and legal education as a whole. As part of a focus on the “new normal,” we see a strong need to assess how onrushing innovations in technology and practice will transform our clinics and our schools. I believe that, as a speaker, Michelle Weise offers an important opportunity and perspective for the clinical community and by extension, the legal academy.

Speaking personally, as a student of the CCI’s theories for the last few years, I have found it very helpful to have a broader framework in which to analyze what is happening in legal education. Indeed, my recent article, No Path But One, is grounded in the theories of the CCI, as is another piece on which I am currently working. Others in the legal academy are also applying the CCI’s disruption theory ideas to legal education. See:

http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2014/10/why-institutions-dont-change.html

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2515009

At this critical time in legal education, I think it is important for the legal academy to understand the “why” behind the changes that are happening around us. Ms. Weise will help us as we begin to understand why higher education is changing and provoke us all to think about how we can prepare for the coming years.

The AALS conference will take place in Rancho Mirage, CA from May 3-7, 2015. Registration for the conference can be found here.

I hope to see you there!

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